Lakeland Electric engineer faked credentials, pretended to be mayor in email, detectives say

Fake transcripts and fake credentials were enough to land a man a job at Lakeland Electric for six years until he was up for a promotion and ended up in jail - charged with fraud.

On Wednesday, Lakeland police said John Bretz was charged with scheming to defraud and criminal use of personal identification. Investigators said he managed to work for Lakeland Electric as a turbine engineer, and then as a supervisor for six years before anyone noticed something was up. He resigned from his position on Oct. 8 during the police investigation into his background.

“In 2012, we did background checks, but he was very good at what he did, at defrauding. He sent college transcripts that were falsified. He used registrar documents that were falsified,” said Kevin Cook, the city of Lakeland communications director.

Police said Bretz's transcripts and professional engineer state license were all made up.

“It doesn’t look as if his professional engineering stamp has put Lakeland Electric or the city at risk at this point in time,” said Cook.

Over the summer, Bretz applied for a manager position, at a time when the vetting process had changed.

“We use a third-party vendor to look at background and do background checks, and at that point in time we found out that original documents supplied in 2012 were false,” Cook said, adding the city began using the third-party vendor for all employee hires in 2017.

Police said Bretz also impersonated the Lakeland mayor in an email, trying to push through his application. Without a real degree, the city said Bretz raked in $865,904.35 in salary in six years.

Lakeland Electric customers said they are surprised.

“I think it’s pretty sad for the electric company that they didn’t have someone that could go ahead and look into this a little bit further before they lost $800,000. That’s a lot of money,” said Lakeland resident Ron Hipple.

Detectives said Bretz also worked under false documents in Illinois. City leaders admit it puts Lakeland in a bad light.

“It’s not good. But not only did he fool us, he fooled the state of Florida and he fooled employers in Illinois. He was good at what he did,” said Cook.

Lakeland city leaders said they don’t plan to double-check the resumes of other city employees hired in 2012 because they were hired on their own merit. As for Bretz, the judge will decide whether he pays back the salary he made.